Doctor Jekyll and Mister GLAAD

HydeThumbby Timothy Lane   1/13/14
I noticed that Turner Classic Movies recently presented a version of The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde, and it occurred to me that most people have no idea of what exactly the good doctor’s evil alter ego actually did. Stevenson never really said, no doubt reflecting the Victorian sensibilities of his readership.

To be sure, we do know that Hyde was involved in two violent acts. In one, he knocked down a girl, and in compensation (which shows at least some sense of responsibility) he paid off with some of Dr. Jekyll’s money. (Some might consider this a metaphor for modern liberals, who always prefer to force other people to pay the liberals’ own financial and moral debts.) Later, after Jekyll had apparently tried to keep Edward Hyde under wraps, the latter wantonly beats and kills a Member of Parliament for no reason that is given. This certainly indicates some sort of violent inclination on Hyde’s part (which, it must be remembered, is merely what Jekyll himself wanted to do – without being seen as misbehaving). Perhaps Hyde consorted with prostitutes and treated them very roughly, in the tradition of the Marquis de Sade. (The infamous marquis was one of the 3 prisoners in the Bastille when the revolutionaries stormed it, having been imprisoned for the murder of a prostitute using Spanish fly. Those curious about this historical incident can read about it in the title article of The Beetle of Aphrodite by Martin Howell and Peter Ford. Meanwhile, it’s a lovely commentary on leftist revolutionaries that their famous strike against privilege actually freed an aristocrat guilty of the murder of a “working girl.”)

Jekyll had a bit of a wild reputation in his youth, which then as now was hardly unusual (one common expression for this sort of behavior was “sowing a few wild oats”). We may reasonably assume that the reason he was considered so much better behaved as an adult was that he let Hyde indulge in all those pleasant (but immoral, ad shocking to good society of the time) vices. Alcohol? Drugs? Prostitution? We have no way of knowing. Anti- social behavior would seem to have been very rare, or we would presumably have heard about it. (The police certainly had no trouble figuring out that Hyde committed his sole known violent crime, though laying their hands on him was understandably more difficult.)

It’s an interesting story, and perhaps worth an article here in its own right, but I have another thought on the subject. If we knew what Hyde was actually doing, how would people today react? Perhaps someone would complain about unprotected sex if he didn’t use condoms, but who knows? He certainly was capable of protecting his own interests, and was at least capable of some sort of pragmatic sense of responsibility as well. If he were boozing or drugging himself, he could move to Boulder, Colorado and fit right in. (Dr. Jekyll, on the other hand, would probably seem rather priggish in such a community. And might he be one of the hated one percent as well?)

Boulder is admittedly a rather extreme example, and prostitution is at least still illegal – but as David Vitter and Robert Menendez (a bipartisan pair of senators) can attest, the clients often aren’t stigmatized the way they were when Victoria reigned (as Asparagus the Cat, admittedly a creation of Eliot rather than Stevenson, would point out). Daniel Patrick Moynihan once talked of “defining deviancy down,” and if we could imagine an updated (and lengthened) copy of Stevenson’s short novel that includes what Edward Hyde really was doing when he took over Henry Jekyll’s body, we would probably find out how far down we’ve defined.

And worse yet, how many would know or care? Or would they consider society better? Hey, in a modernized story Dr. Jekyll wouldn’t need Hyde at all. Who would care if he did all that in his own persona? • (5829 views)

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47 Responses to Doctor Jekyll and Mister GLAAD

  1. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    I hope you like “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” version of Mr. Hyde as the thumbnail image. He’s by no means the creepiest Mr. Hyde. But I like that movie.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      I haven’t seen that movie (though I noticed it at the time and might someday see it on TV); in fact, the last movie I saw in a theater was The Phantom Menace a decade or so ago. For that matter, I’ve never seen any movie or series or whatever of Jekyll and Hyde (though there was an original Trek episode that deal with very similar themes). I have read the book twice, and was a member of a panel discussing the book at the 1997 Windycon. (Elizabeth and I were Fan Guests of Honor because the con chairman that year was a subscriber. Sadly, he wasn’t able to attend because of a sudden diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, dying a month or so later.)

      • Giovanna Visconti says:

        Gentlemen, there are two rather well-known H’wood versions of “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.”

        Nineteen Thirty-One with Fredric March and Miram Hopkins, and 1941 with Spencer Tracy, Ingrid Bergman and Lana Turner, with Bergman playing Ivy and Turner playing Jekyll’s fiance–though you’d think, at first glance, it would have been the other way ’round!

        Most people have preferred the March version over the years, but between HIS overacting AND Hopkins’s, I’ve never cared much for it.

        The Tracy version is much better, in my opinion, not least because Tracy was a far better actor than March, and because MGM wisely used Bergman as Ivy, the prostitute, rather than Turner.

        Turner was never an actress, and Bergman really was! So pairing Tracy and Bergman was inspired.

        It also boasts a Franz Waxman score.

        There is, too, a silent version from 1920 with John Barrymore. I’ve seen some of it but find sitting through silent films rather difficult, and usually only force myself to do it with MAJOR films, important for their technical advances–like “Birth of a Nation” or “Intolerance.”

        Oh, my…imagine a major screening of either of those today. TCM does show them now and then. Both have been carefully restored although I’m sure it pained the industry to do it!

        • Timothy Lane says:

          I’m sure it was one of those versions, but that was last week and I don’t have the TV schedule now. I didn’t see anyone I recognized as well as I think I would Tracy (even in 1940). And of course, March and Tracy eventually starred opposite each other in Inherit the Wind. (I’ve done a very lengthy song parody of their theme song, spread over 2 issues of FOSFAX.)

          • Giovanna Visconti says:

            In “Inherit the Wind” you get to see March at his very worst. It’s an embarrassing performance just in terms of his terrible “acting,” and I’ve no idea what kind of disservice it might also be to Wm. Jennings Bryan, on whom March’s character is based!

            The text of that play, and consequently of the film, is outstanding: the freedom to think and speak, or, to be more obvious: FREEDOM OF SPEECH!

            There are many films that deal with important issues IMPLICITLY, but “Inherit the Wind” is one of the few that deals EXPLICITLY with the basic and substantive issue: FREEDOM OF SPEECH!

            So it’s most annoying to have March’s buffoonish performance besmirching one of the two most important characters in the film! It really undermines what is otherwise a riveting narrative . It’s a relief when he ISN’T on screen, jerking our attention away from the story!

            • Timothy Lane says:

              Well, that is how Bryan is portrayed in the play. (Incidentally, you can probably guess why I sometimes referred to the troll Hofstader as Hornbeck, back when I often responded to the trolls.) A very fine account of the Scopes case can be found in The Great Monkey Trial by L. Sprague de Camp — if you can actually find a copy of the book.

              • Giovanna Visconti says:

                Based on the text of the screenplay, it is completely UNNECESSARY to portray the Bryan character in the embarrassing and totally unacceptable way that March does. The characterization choices were entirely up to him–perhaps with input from Kramer–but March is ultimately responsible for his own performance.

                And being familiar with March’s work over his long career, I found this particularly imbecilic turn unsurprising. So I would not blame the play for HIS ridiculous overacting and cringe-worthy choices.

                The Hornbeck character, it is my understanding, was based on H. L. Mencken. You were far too kind to that Hofstader creature, Timothy, to grant him such a comparison! In fact, Hofstader isn’t even comparable to Gene Kelly! (I don’t know, maybe Hofstader can dance?) 🙂

                Anyway, after reading one or two of Hofstader’s responses a very long time ago, I stopped reading anything he had to say and just skipped past his name…except for one occasion when he responded directly to something of mine. He said something like: You should read my response to such-and-such…to which I replied: I never read your responses to anybody, and am doing so now only because you addressed me directly, and to suggest, therefore, that you don’t bother to do so in the future.

                And that was that. 🙂

        • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

          Jack Palance’s performance in the late 1960’s made a strong impression on me as a teenager. As I recall, he did not use makeup to change to Mr. Hyde.

          • Giovanna Visconti says:

            It’s unfortunate that he didn’t since the entire point of Stevenson’s story is the contrast between the two “personalities” co-existing (in his view) within the same man.

            And it illustrates that sometimes, for the sake of making a story’s POINT on film, you need an actor who is physically appropriate. In the case of this story you need to contrast good and evil and it has to be clear, physically.

            That’s one of the strengths particularly of the Tracy version. They use very little makeup (mostly fake teeth, and subtle and effective eye makeup)–LESS is almost ALWAYS more!–to differentiate Jekyll from Hyde physically, and it works wonderfully…not least because Tracy is able to project the personality differences so well.

            I would never have cast Palance (who was a pretty good American film actor) PARTICULARLY in THIS story BECAUSE of his appearance.

            That was only a TV movie anyway, I think…sometime in the Sixties.

            • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

              I would also probably not have used Palance in the role because of his very distinct looks. but I think I would have been wrong.

              I find Jekyll to be the less developed and less interesting character in the book. While the contrast between the two is important, the focus is really on Hyde. It is Mr. Hyde that has captured the public’s imagination throughout the years, Dr. Jekyll, not so much. On a side note, I have always found the names should have been reversed, I find Jekyll to fit the character of Mr. Hyde and Hyde to fit the Dr. But that’s just a personal quirk.

              Given my interpretation of the book, I find Palance’s interpretation of Hyde more important than his Jekyll. While his Jekyll was not particularly outstanding, in fact fairly insipid, it was very impressive how menacing his Hyde was without use of the hokey makeup too often used in the role. I found the transformation convincing. I like to see a human in the role not the Wolf Man. I think it is a good thing to show that the face of evil may not be so different from the face of good.

              I am not saying his overall performance was better than Tracey’s, but I like Palance’s Hyde, better than any other I have seen. It is human, not animal.

              “Who knows what evil lurks in the heart of men?”

              • Giovanna Visconti says:

                You may be correct in your assessment of Stevenson’s characterization in the book.

                However, a film is NOT a book. Film is a visual medium first, and it is giving “life” to words on the page.

                So, I think, as I said, that the point of “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” the story, is to contrast what Stevenson saw as two sides of personality within one man. It seems to me that he’s saying–as the trope goes–we all have good and evil within us, etc., etc.

                I don’t personally subscribe to that idea, however, when reading one has to grant the author his premise or stop reading; and when making a film of a particular book, the filmmakers have to find a way to implement the author’s idea, whatever it is, in VISUAL TERMS…if they’re being honest filmmakers, that is.

                I’ve yet to see any version of this story in which the leading actor was able to execute the contrast between “the good,” (Jekyll), and “evil,” (Hyde) as well as Tracy does.

                In fact, if one accepts your conclusions about Jekyll’s characterization IN THE BOOK, then Tracy does an even BETTER job developing and filling out the character ON FILM! It is VITAL that the actor do that! Otherwise, there’s no point to the entire endeavor.

                It’s most important to give us the high-minded, serious, compassionate Jekyll and contrast him with what happens to him (Hyde) once he goes where no man had gone before!

                After all, Stevenson DID title his book: Dr. Jekyll AND Mr. Hyde. Seems to me Stevenson’s point is to contrast this good-and-evil-within-every-man idea. Therefore, BOTH characters MUST be equal–until one of them wins out. If one character is more dominant, then the story falls apart. And in THIS story, Jekyll IS the real character. He is FIRST, and actually, ONLY–because Hyde is only an extension of that dark soul that Stevenson apparently thought existed within each of us no matter how “good” we might be, or try to be.

                And, by the way, because of the way the story ends, with Jekyll knowing he must kill himself, Stevenson gives him higher moral validity even while he’s saying, at the same time, that “evil” will overcome in the end–or he’s saying it will win if man fools too much with things he shouldn’t.

                As I said, I don’t personally agree with Stevenson’s positions, but the story isn’t about my ideas; it’s about his!


    How would today’s Left react to Jekyll and Hyde? They’d condemn Jekyll as a hypocrite (the only vice they recognize), raise his taxes, and put Hyde’s picture on t-shirts to be sold to the thoughtless, miseducated youth they’ve created.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      That sounds a lot like my view, and sadly all too accurate. And now let’s ask, how would NRO and similar sorts respond to Jekyll and Hyde?

    • David Ray says:

      Hilarious post and, unfortunately as Lane says, really IS all too accurate, save one thing . . .
      You omitted the part where the Kinder through 3rd graders are taught to sing nauseating laudations in tribute to B Hussein Hyde. (I still can’t get over that.)

      • Timothy Lane says:

        If you haven’t checked out my song parodies here, I will note that it includes a parody (“The Battle Hymn of Obama”) inspired by that infamous incident (which, according to descriptions I read, ended with a fascist salute).

    • Giovanna Visconti says:

      Not to worry about Jekyll. Under ObamaCare he wouldn’t be able to practice anyway. So he might just take on his Hyde personality permanently–and live a Rocky Mountain high life! 🙂

  3. This whole discussion reminds me of the reaction I had to the TV movie version of “Brave New World” which was produced in 1998. I could only stand to watch a fraction of it because, rather than looking futuristic and Star-Trekkian, it looked like the present. Exactly like the present. The mindless sex and frantic search for entertainment, the soma fog they all lived in, the bottled, parentless babies. It hit way too close to home and I shut it off.

    • Giovanna Visconti says:

      But, Deana, that’s why the book is so good. It’s phenomenally prescient. “Brave New World” and “1984” (along with “Animal Farm”) are very special bookends, more relevant today than they were when originally written!

      I’ve not seen the 1998 TV film, but remember one from rather longer ago. In fact, I think it was in b&w, but it too was a TV film, and it starred Kristoffer Tabori, son of Viveca Lindfors, an excellent actress briefly in H’wood in the Forties and into the Fifties.

      But, I digress. If you found some 1998 TV version of BNW difficult, you might find the book even harder, especially since I can assume it is much better written than that TV attempt.

      The 1984 film version of “1984,” is a most terrifying film. Very difficult to sit through because it is so excellently done. Richard Burton, John Hurt, Cyril Cusack, Susanna Hamilton, and directed by Michael Radford.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        I think I remember that earlier version of BNW that you recall. I had thought it was a lot earlier than 1998; I think there was a version of The Lathe of Heaven on TV around the same time.

        As a definite Orwell fan (despite his socialism — I’ve read a lot more than Animal Farm and 1984), I enjoyed the 1984 movie, though a friend found it boring. This may reflect the difference between someone who reads a lot about politics, economics, and history — and someone who doesn’t.

        • Giovanna Visconti says:

          The Tabori version was from sometime in the 60s, I think, but not certain.

          I agree about Orwell (and Huxley). Despite his socialist alliance, he’s remarkably perceptive about what he saw happening around him, and did not shrink from telling it like it was.

          Can’t say I “enjoyed” the Burton/Hurt “1984.” It REALLY creates Orwell’s horror vividly. The final scene is particularly draining: the complete destruction of human beings on the inside–which is, of course, Orwell’s point (and Steyn’s, by the way!) about the end result of any form of totalitarianism.

          • Timothy Lane says:

            “He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother.” I’ve used that quote occasionally on blogs in response to some of the more dedicated conservative supporters of the NSA spying on ordinary people.

            • Giovanna Visconti says:

              I know! Those lines JUMP off the page at you, don’t they?

              I think the visual implementation in the film is even MORE gruesome, if you will, and despairing–because it’s executed so well! That’s what film should do, at its best.

          • ladykrystyna says:

            I re-read “1984” a few months ago.

            A commenter on NRO last year some time had referenced the scene with Winston and O’Brien and the
            2+2=5 issue.

            And it really hit me in the gut and reminded me also this article (which I read way after 2008):


            The portion that really stood out was this one:

            “To humanize that just a bit, that means that 56,378,316 individuals waited in line just as long as you did, and worked just as hard as anyone else, to try to make sure that Barack Obama would not become president of the United States. I don’t know about you, but that scares the shit out of me. It means — for reasons that go way beyond any immediate financial crises — we’re still in very deep trouble.

            Who are they, and why do they feel this way? Well, they’re 4.6 out of every 10 people you pass on the street. In other words, in spite of an electoral landslide and a historically significant popular margin, we still barely won. Just about as many people wanted it to go the other way.”

            Why should people voting a different way scare someone? I mean, it disappointed me that so many people did fall for Obama, but scare me because they have a different opinion?


            And that brought to mind the “2+2=5”: the left doesn’t like dissent, but not only does it not like dissent, it wants you walk in complete lockstep with them. They want you mind, body and soul. They want you to make them believe that you really believe that “2+2=5”.

            Now that is what scares the crap out of me, just as much as the ending of “1984”. I expected, I suppose, the good guys to win. And they didn’t. Winston and Julia couldn’t even trust the guy who lent the room for he was in on it the whole time.

            That freaked me out beyond belief.

            • Timothy Lane says:

              And how do we know Winston could really trust Julia? After all, at the beginning it occurs to him that he really can’t even be sure of the date. It’s the ultimate paranoid horror story.

      • That’s why I chose to teach BNW, because I could see us going there. It was a shock, however, in 1998, to have to admit that we had, more or less, arrived. 1984 is even scarier. It was interesting at the time that now and then I’d have parents object to my assigning my students to read BNW. They thought it was immoral. It took some talking to make them understand that Huxley was writing a warning not a commercial.

        • Timothy Lane says:

          We had both books in the 10th grade, though I’d already read 1984 (and Animal Farm even earlier, when I was in grade school). The edition of 1984 (which I still have) has an afterword by Erich Fromm which mentions Zamyatin’s We as a third major dystopian novel. I later found it in the Purdue library and read it there (and later still got my own copy), so I have all 3 novels. There’s a reason I sometimes refer to liberals as “goodthinkful well-doers” — combining 1984 and We.

        • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

          They thought it was immoral. It took some talking to make them understand that Huxley was writing a warning not a commercial.

          Goodness. How old was your class? In my days, we had certainly become familiar with the ideas of satire, parody, and the general “What if?” gist of sci-fi (political or otherwise) by the time we were 13. What you said, Deana, gave me this horrible vision of youths who were in a state of dull ignorance. Had a third-grader said, “Oh, but Mrs. Chadwell, we shouldn’t do that to people” regarding “Brave New World,” that would make sense. It’s the same way that (at least for the first few times) a baby may really think you have gone missing when it hides its own eyes playing “peak-a-boo.”

          But for either junior high schoolers or high schoolers to not even fathom the idea of literature as commentary is amazing. They remind me of the minds that have been made shallow by the exact same techniques as in BNW and other dystopian novels. Scary, and very real, indeed.

          • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

            It’s worse than that. It’s the parents who objected. No doubt there are legions of people whose minds have been so trained that they cannot deviate, even slightly, from the literal.

            I believe it has to do with a lack of humor, at least partially. This type of thing used to be associated with extreme, buckled down religious types. Now, with political correctness running rampant through society, we can associate it with the PC types as well.

            • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

              That all those “liberals” (who thought they were the grand protectors of liberty) are now supporting the Left (who are the most illiberal of types) is something most hippies, potheads, flower children, and others have not gotten yet. Their self-identity as freedom-loving “liberals” hems them in from seeing the truth. And thus our republic dies because of this. They’ve been taught “danger on the right” and this blinds them to seeing the danger they are aiding and abetting. This is how Obama got elected. We haven’t learned this lesson yet.

            • Timothy Lane says:

              I’ve noticed this with regard to Isaac Asimov. He certainly had a good sense of humor (he even compiled a treasury of it, which I have), and could accept jokes on him or his religious background. But not his politics, as he showed in his reaction when Al Capp turned his satire on “Phony Joanie” and the like.

          • Timothy Lane says:

            The edition of Brave New World we had in high school (which is still the copy I have) included Huxley’s comments, so there would have been no problem of understanding. Then, too, that was over 45 years ago. And, editing, I see that I did succeed in using italics properly. Thanks for the explanation. But it’s a lot more trouble than it is in WordStar.

            • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

              Timothy, your italics look grand. If I ever run into a better plugin for WordPress for posts, I’ll let you know. But I’ll never do DISQUS. Never (not that it is much better from the point of view of formatting).

              I’ve seen some better methods on other systems. But this will work okay for the basics.

        • Giovanna Visconti says:


          I apologize if I “sounded” like I thought you hadn’t read BNW! I just took your comments at face value.

          And I find your subsequent comments about the difficulties with parents scary.

  4. Timothy Lane says:

    Responding to Giovanni Visconti on Inherit the Wind, I will note that I’m not very familiar with March as an actor, nor do I consider myself much of a judge of good (or bad) acting — which probably doesn’t surprise you. Hornbeck was indeed based on H, L. Mencken. In referring to Hofstader as Hornbeck, I was thinking of Henry Drummond (Clarence Darrow) telling him at the end: “You never pushed a noun against a verb except to blow up something.” I intended to quote that if anyone ever asked why I referred to him as Hornbeck, but no one ever did.

    • Giovanna Visconti says:

      You know, Timothy, I think I recall that exchange of yours! And smiling at it: “Great response, Timothy!” I remember saying to myself, but I don’t recall if I wrote that.

      But when I read your comment above, I DID immediately remember the Hofstader put-down!

      As to March and acting, the subject of “acting” has been something of a hobby of mine over the years. In general, and in the particular, it might be rather a longer discussion than is appropriate here.

  5. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:


    I am more of a book guy than film guy so I generally look at a film from the perspective of the book on which it is based, if I have read the book. In response to your observations regarding the necessity of contrast in the movie and how authors must achieve this, I think that is often the problem. Film is too often anything but subtle. Those involved can and frequently do overplay the scene. I think Tracy could have achieved quite a bit without the false teeth and funny hair. He was made to look like some 1930-40’s idea of a Neanderthal man. I find it a bit cliche’.

    Tracy’s Jekyll and Palance’s Hyde would have been an interesting mix, but that not being possible, I do think Tracy’s movie has the edge. It has been over forty years since I saw the Palance movie so I could be wrong.

    I found Palance an interesting actor although his looks often got in his way. Hell, he could have played an Orc without makeup.

    • Giovanna Visconti says:

      Kung Fu Zu,

      You make some very interesting points. I’d like to take them separately, and hope I don’t go on too long.

      I’ve already screwed up using the attributes in another post, so I’ll put YOU in quotes, and my responses will follow–and hope the italics work correctly this time!

      “I am more of a book guy than film guy so I generally look at a film from the perspective of the book on which it is based, if I have read the book.”

      I understand the idea of looking at a film from the perspective of the book on which it is based. I do think that must be part of the equation in the filmmakers’ planning stages.

      Here’s what I mean, and let’s take “Frankenstein” as an example while comparing only two film versions that bear some relationship to the book, and that come at the story from very different points of view.

      Mel Brooks’s “Young Frankenstein” credits Mary Shelley. But in reality, of course, Brooks’s film is more an homage to James Whale’s 1931 “Frankenstein.” Brooks was even able to unearth and use some of the “gizmos” that were actually used in the Whale film!

      Whale’s film also notes Mary Shelley in the opening credits, but it’s really only a nod since Shelley’s novel isn’t a “horror” story to begin with!

      And, after all, how much of any novel can you get into a 71-minute screenplay with the best writers in the world—even if you’re making a straight drama?

      At that point, when evaluating Whale’s film, you have to point out the fact that the screenplay adheres in an expansively general way to the novel, and then, having said that, you really have to judge the end product simply AS A FILM, and a “genre” film in this case.

      Ditto for Brooks’s comic take on the story! ONE of the reasons (and there are many!) “Young Frankenstein” works so well is because we’re all familiar to one degree or another with the original story! Even if we never read Shelley.
      In other words, film has its own vocabulary, and to judge a film—even one that draws its narrative from another medium—you have to ultimately judge it as: FILM QUA FILM.

      Also, you cannot put a book word-for-word on film. It would be deadly, to both! They are different mediums.

      Having said that, however, I’ll take four other film adaptations that are outstanding: “Gone With the Wind”, “To Kill a Mockingbird”, “Rebecca” and “Jane Eyre.”

      GWTW is over 1,000 pages; the film is over three hours, and still there had to be cuts. There are incidents and characters that do not appear in the film.

      Yet it’s a remarkable and brilliantly faithful adaptation! Even MORE SO if you know anything about the making of it! It’s a wonder ANYTHING coherent got onto the screen given the wildly difficult, but brilliant and impossible producer, David Selznick.

      GWTW is a successful adaptation because it remains faithful to the author’s theme, concept and viewpoint. In the end, THAT’S what’s important: Are you honoring the original in intent and execution?

      “Mockingbird,” to me, is one of jewels of H’wood filmmaking. There’s almost nothing wrong with it as a FILM, and it also remains completely faithful to the point—to several points, actually!—that the author makes in the book and to her point of view and intent.

      Ditto for “Rebecca.” It’s a difficult book to bring to the screen because of the various narrative “tricks” DuMaurier uses. But, again, nothing essential is left out, and we have not only a brilliant film, but a superb adaptation.

      The 1944 “Jane Eyre,” with Joan Fontaine and Orson Welles, is remarkable as both a film in its own right, and as an adaptation. The look of the film, the mood set by the cinematography, and underscored by Bernard Herrmann’s music; all the performances—everything about it works on every level and honors Charlotte Bronte.

      The screenplay is concise and tight and leaves out nothing essential even though, again, there are characters in the book that do not appear in the film.

      The filmmakers understood and respected the original, and made certain that what made it onto the screen reflected that.

      “In response to your observations regarding the necessity of contrast in the movie and how authors must achieve this, I think that is often the problem.”

      Yes, it certainly can be, and in today’s world one really should be vigilant when offering film criticism, and not allow unprincipled filmmakers to get away with bowdlerization. Sadly, most of today’s critics may be many things, but vigilant is not one of them!

      I said bowdlerization, not adaptation! Intelligent adaptation SHOULD BE a matter of principle because you are taking someone else’s work and ideas into another medium. Alas, we don’t live in a particularly principled age.

      “Film is too often anything but subtle.”

      Often. But again lack of subtlety, if it occurs, is the fault of the screenwriters, directors, and actors because the medium doesn’t have to be unsubtle at all.

      “Those involved can and frequently do overplay the scene. I think Tracy could have achieved quite a bit without the false teeth and funny hair. He was made to look like some 1930-40′s idea of a Neanderthal man. I find it a bit cliche’.”

      Yes, well, it WAS 1941.

      I think if that film were made today (made honorably and intelligently!), with the same cast, the makeup might not—MIGHT not—be as extreme as you think it was. I think at that time they probably felt they HAD to make Hyde “look” like the monster he actually was.

      Makeup, costumes, sets, and of course cinematography and music are all SO important to the end-product. Most audiences really don’t understand that. Generally, to the credit of really good, professional filmmakers, audiences aren’t even aware how all of that actually affects their emotional reactions to a “movie!”

      In the ’41 “Jekyll and Hyde,” I didn’t find the makeup a problem because Tracy, in his performance, gets to the raw, nasty amorality of Hyde, and in the end, the audience is generally left with that—and the contrast to his Jekyll.

      You could say just lose the teeth and go with a different hairstyle (i.e., no wig), and the eye makeup. The eye makeup is what I see when I think of that character: that and the “change” that came over Tracy.

      Many British actors—and I should clarify that I think they’re the best in the world—often say that when they get the “look” of a character “right,” then they can proceed to flesh out the characterization.

      Laurence Olivier’s “Richard III” comes to mind.

      “Tracy’s Jekyll and Palance’s Hyde would have been an interesting mix, but that not being possible, I do think Tracy’s movie has the edge. It has been over forty years since I saw the Palance movie so I could be wrong.

      I found Palance an interesting actor although his looks often got in his way.”

      I don’t really think they did, actually! I think Palance used his appearance quite successfully throughout his career.

      He was even able to use it to good comic effect in a little Nineties film I enjoy very much called “City Slickers,”–and I’m someone who doesn’t care much for MOST films made after about 1970!

      ” Hell, he could have played an Orc without makeup.”

      LOL! Yeah, I think you might have something there! Although, I must say I find his appearance more interesting than necessarily “ugly.”

      Generally, a really good actor can make you not focus on his looks per se, but historically H’wood allowed appearance to be as important as talent and ability. In fact, they frequently made “image” or “appearance” almost MORE important than anything else!

      However, image is an involved, complex subject, and it can be a useful tool on screen.

      I wanted to discuss David Lean’s adaptations of “Great Expectations” and “Oliver Twist” because of the very different approach to filmmaking that Lean took.

      That approach affected his films which were NOT adaptations like “Lawrence” and “Kwai,” and then back to adaptation in the case of an impossible book: “Dr. Zhivago.”

      But I’ve probably gone on much too long as it is and bored everyone who started to read this out of their gourds before their eyes began to cross!!

      • Timothy Lane says:

        Speaking of Frankenstein, I have a videotaped copy from a Movie Channel Halloween special many years ago that features a version that never actually ran in the theaters. It includes the scene in which the monster tosses a little girl into the water (which was removed as too shocking), and also the introduction and added material at the end (indicating that Victor Frankenstein would live). I will add that The Bride of Frankenstein, a sequel that is itself well worth viewing, adds some additional material from the original book.

        One thing I liked about Rebecca is that the viewpoint character has no name of her own and the title character never appears (even in the flashback).

        The Bridge on the River Kwai is based on a book by Pierre Boulle (also the author of Planet of the Apes), which is itself based on the actual construction of a railroad linking Thailand and Burma during World War II, the Kwai being a reasonable transliteration of the name of one of the rivers it had to crossed. I have no idea of the accuracy of either one, though a survivor of the work was highly critical once in an interview I read.

        Editing here, I will note that I’ve tried to use italics but was unable to make them work. I note that when I entered the full /i sequence including the around it, it would convert the /i to /I. I would then reconvert the /I to /i. When I tried just now to redo it without the conversion, there was no change. What should I be doing? After all, it worked for me yesterday.

        • Giovanna Visconti says:

          I think that version of Whale’s “Frankenstein” to which you refer is what’s on the DVD. That’s one of the great things about DVD. However, I don’t own the DVD because I don’t care for the “horror” genre. I DO own “Young Frankenstein,” however! But that’s different. 🙂

          Also, Kenneth Branagh made a version of the story that adheres more closely to Mary Shelley. I think DeNiro plays the “monster.” And there was a short mini-series (I think it might have been over three nights, or something like that) made for TV with Patrick Bergin. I remember seeing it. That one too purports to be more “serious” and stays closer to Shelley.

          As to “Rebecca,” well, that’s what DuMaurier did in the book: the second Mrs. DeWinter is never referred to by name, and, of course, Rebecca herself doesn’t ever appear. Well she wouldn’t, after all, since she’s dead when the story begins!!

          The POINT is that Hitchcock “got” all that in CINEMATOGRAPHIC terms! And the script is a superb adaptation of a book that uses those narrative “tricks.”

          Yes, I know “Kwai” is based on Boulle’s book. It says so in the opening credits! However, Boulle’s book is NOT fiction, whereas “GWTW,” “Mockingbird,” “Rebecca” and “Jane Eyre” ARE fiction.

          I’m also aware that there were complaints from some of the survivors.

          However, I think the survivors may have missed the point here: Lean was NOT making a documentary!

          Lean uses the events to highlight a certain kind of individual: Col. Nicholson, Alec Guinness’s character, and the Japanese commander, Col. Saito, Sessue Hayakawa’s character–both of whom are FICTIONAL!

          And Lean shows how each man responded to events (in this case, war and captivity, etc.).

          He also shows how each man was influenced by his cultural background, and how each man took pieces of his background and wove that into his own personal character.

          Most of Lean’s films–even the early British ones–are about the individual pitted against a larger background, or the prevailing culture, or cataclysmic events such as war. He will often highlight that CINEMATOGRAPHICALLY!

          His films are always about how individuals are affected by and react to those things. (Even, in their own way, “Summertime,” and “Passage to India.”)

          • Timothy Lane says:

            Let’s see, Young Frankenstein had Gene Wilder and Marty Feldman in it. What, that wasn’t a horror movie? I’m shocked, shocked!

            Many years ago, I picked up a book (and even paid for it and read it) called What Ever Happened to Lady Chatterley’s Lover? It featured what happened to various fictional characters after the book, and Mrs. de Winter was one of them (and handicapped a bit by not having a first name). During filming, they referred to her as “Daphne” after the author.

            I’ve seen Rebecca and Bridge on the River Kwai, but I’ve never read either book, so I have no way of comparing them (and no way of knowing how accurate a history Boulle’s was).

            • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

              I have also never read Boulle’s book, but do know that thousands of laborers died building the Burma-Thailand railroad. They were mainly, Indians who had settled in S.E. Asia as well as other natives of the area.

              Although I loved the film, I think William Holden is a very underestimated actor, I think such films can mislead the general public as to what really happened.

              I would give you very long odds that many if not most of the people who you ask about the film would answer to the affirmative if asked if the film was real history. I believe this is why former British prisoners took umbrage at the portrayal of Nicholson. Not only did he not resemble Toosey who was the senior British officer in charge, he also was an insult to the officer corps of the British and Commonwealth forces.

              Personally, I find the film character to be one dimensional at best. A cardboard unrealistic figure. Each time I re-watch the film, I find Nicholson more distasteful, silly and unrealistic.

              Saito was altogether more interesting and believable. Holden’s and Hawkin’s characters were even more believable.

              As to Lean’s films in general, I have always thought he really was looking for broad themes around which he wanted to build his cinematographic art; the theme being secondary to the picture.

              I do not say this in a derogatory way. I personally love pictorial art. The scene in “Lawrence of Arabia” showing the dot of Sheik Ali juxtaposed against the vast desert is fantastic pictorial art on a gigantic canvas. Hugely evocative.

              • Giovanna Visconti says:

                I would give you very long odds that many if not most of the people who you ask about the film would answer to the affirmative if asked if the film was real history.

                Kung Fu Zu, a filmmaker cannot be held responsible for his audience’s mistakes! Just because some people think what they see on television or in the movies is gospel truth is irrelevant.

                If a person sees a film like “Kwai” and is interested in finding out more about what happened historically, then he should investigate that, either read Boulle’s book or seek out other information! Even before the Internet, there were ways to do that!

                A great deal of “Lawrence” is not journalistically “real” either! In the first place, Peter O’Toole was nearly 6’2″, and Lawrence was more like 5’5″! And there are other “inaccuracies.” The film is a “story,” a drama, NOT a history book or a documentary!

                Not to mention that, in reality, Lawrence was not as major a figure as the film might imply.

                I DO think people very often seem to have many misconceptions when it comes to non-documentary film-making that deals with historical issues or persons.

                Lean considered the character of Nicholson to be a “nut;” he also considered the Lawrence he and Robert Bolt fashioned to be a bit of a “nut.”

                And Nicholson was NOT meant as a journalistic re-creation of the real commander.

                That is NOT what Lean was doing! Again, he was NOT making a documentary about what really might have happened there!

                As far as Lean’s films are concerned, I don’t know if you’ve seen the majority of his output. He actually only made 18 features, and “Lawrence,” “Kwai,” and “Zhivago” are only THREE of them!

                Yet even in those three, his focus is on THE INDIVIDUAL against some kind of panoramic backdrop: War and captivity in the case of “Kwai”; War and political intrigue in “Lawrence”, and war and societal upheaval in “Zhivago.”

                The fact that he had such a profound visual sense and could create isolated moments of sheer cinematographic brilliance doesn’t detract from his concept of the film’s narrative.

                However, his early British films are magnificent studies of the same relationship: the individual and the society around him and what is happening in that society and how those events affect that individual–whether it’s Pip in “Great Expectations,” or the child Oliver in “Oliver Twist”, or the three main characters in “Hobson’s Choice, or, one of my personal favorite films of all time: “The Sound Barrier.”

                Anyway, Lean always focuses on an individual, what happens to him or her, and how that individual reacts and behaves. I honestly don’t see how anyone can miss that.

                P.S.: I agree with you about William Holden. He’s one of my favorite American film actors. And he’s also an example of what I call: THEY WERE MEN THEN!

                In other words, there was a time when the men of the movies almost always were…MEN!…as opposed to either some metrosexual chump, or, even worse, the attenuated, pre-adolescent dolts we’re often presented with today.

  6. I have to agree with Kung Fu Zu, Jack Palance’s portrayal of Mr Hyde was the best dramatization of the story I’d ever seen. It was a television production as I recall, and a little racy for the time. I was pretty young at the time and had seen the older versions with the rubber monster mask and found the Palance characterization dark, human and evil. Much more disturbing than the old movies. Great performance on his part.

  7. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

    “a filmmaker cannot be held responsible for his audience’s mistakes!”

    I hold a film maker about as responsible for an audience’s mistakes regarding history as I do a candy maker for people’s cavities. They didn’t put the candy in the willing mouths, but they facilitated it.

    As to Lean and his films. If anyone took junior high or high school English in the 1960’s I would guess that they had seen Lean’s “Great Expectations” at least a couple of times. As I was a film projectionist in high school I saw it many times. And the same would go for “Oliver Twist”. Even if one didn’t see both in high school, it would have been hard to miss them on late night TV, even before cable. “Brief Encounter” and “The Sound Barrier” are less well known, but I have seen them.

    The above films are completely different from “The Bridge Over the River Kwai”, “Lawrence of Arabia”, “Dr. Zhivago” or even “A Passage to India”. The later were all “Panoramic” epics filmed in exotic lands and unusual circumstances in COLOR. Lean’s use of cinematography in these was completely different from the earlier films. “Ryan’s Daughter” was somewhat in between.

    That Lean developed his characters and buffeted them in a world which might be less than kind to them is not particularly special. Unless we are talking about the general nonsense one sees on the wide screen today, or old fashioned slap stick or the camp of the 1950’s, most serious films did much the same. Perhaps Lean tried to sharpen the focus on his characters’ predicaments and how they reacted, but I do not find that terribly special. Well done, but not extra special.

    In the end, film is primarily a visual medium. Therefore, I do not find it surprising that as he developed, Lean literally expanded his canvas and the colors on his pallet to create the vast works of art which he did. Perhaps for aficionados as yourself, Lean means the character’s reaction to a difficult situation, but I am very sure for most movie goers, if they were asked what they thought about David Lean, they would mention his expansive shots and sublime use of color and space.

  8. Timothy Lane says:

    Responding to Giovanna’s Sunday evening comments about Lawrence (myth and reality), I will note that a few years ago I read a book on the politics of the struggle in the Middle East during World War I. It actually started with the German effort to build the Berlin-to-Baghdad railway, covered the Turks’ snookering the Germans in August 1914 (trading 2 battleships the British were in the process of seizing for a promise of German defensive support if needed), and went into a great deal of detail on efforts to buy Arab support. The British had the advantage of being able to supply food to a desert population, plus more abundant supplies of gold and silver for hard currency. But both found the Arabs to be very expensive for what you could get them to do.

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